Historians lament 'loss of heritage' as tunnel work starts

After two years of passionate protest by heritage advocates, the partial demolition of one of the oldest bridges in Australia has started. 

Construction work on Parramatta's state heritage-listed Lennox Bridge, the second oldest road bridge in the state, officially begun on Monday. 

Three-metre wide rectangular tunnels will be drilled through either side of the sandstone bridge which was built by convicts between 1836 and 1839 and designed by the colony's first superintendent of bridges David Lennox.

Parramatta Council say the tunnels will improve access to the Parramatta River by enabling a continuous pedestrian and cycleway path along its foreshore.

Currently, when people reach the Lennox Bridge on either side of the river they have no option but to use stairs and cross over Church Street.

But heritage advocates have rallied against the construction of the tunnels for almost two years since the idea was first proposed at the end of 2011.

Parramatta and District Historical Society president Patrick Trevor took photographs of the start of construction for his archives this week.

He said the tunnels were a "great tragedy" and the bridge lost all of its heritage value the moment construction commenced.

"The bridge itself really was the icon of Parramatta. It's a beautiful, graceful, colonial structure. All of a sudden it's become just another bridge which will have ugly holes through it. I'm extremely disappointed," he said.

Another local historian, June Bullivant from the Greater Western Sydney Heritage Action Group, said she was worried the works might cause irreversible damage to the entire bridge.

"They don't really know what's going to happen to the bridge until they start to dig up the road and start removing the sandstone. We'll just have to wait and see," Ms Bullivant said.

"I can admit defeat but they will go down in history as the destroyers of the bridge and that will be there for everyone to see in 100 years. Once you stick a hole in it, you've destroyed any heritage value whatsoever."

Parramatta Council was the applicant for the $8 million project, and also approved it. It's been funded by the council as well as the state and federal governments. 

The NSW Heritage Council approved the plans in 2012 saying the tunnels would boost the heritage value of the bridge rather than reduce it. 

Lord mayor John Chedid said they would allow people with less mobility, including people with a disabilities and parents with prams, to access the river.

"Creating portals through the bridge will allow pedestrians and bike riders to walk or ride from the Parramatta city centre to Westmead. This will make it easier for residents, workers and visitors to move around, especially during our major events," he said.

Cyclists' Action Movement WEST member and tour guide Paul Bowyer said he was excited to lead the first heritage bike ride through the tunnels. 

"I think it’s going to be fantastic. It’s not a destruction it's an adaption to meet a need. The portals will move the barrier without damaging any of the beautiful arch and sandstone. Yes, that’s a chance to appearance but it will bring the benefits that are incredible," Mr Bowyer said.

The construction will commence on the northern side of the bridge next to the Heritage Centre and is expected to take a little over a year to complete.

A council spokeswoman said original sandstone blocks removed from the bridge would be protected and stored for future reuse. A gallery about the history of the bridge is also set to be constructed inside the tunnels.

What do you think about the tunnels? Leave a comment below. 

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